Sleepless In Holloway – AFC

Sunday had begun with a profound sense of foreboding. You see after our stay of execution last week (Spurs inexplicably drawing at Villa last week) I was quite enjoying a week without football, not having to worry about injuries/if we’ll ever win without Mikel Arteta/whether we’ve scored too early etc.  Now however it was back to business, so with a quiet sense of fear I made my way to The Quays pub on Holloway Road, a trusty venue which always shows the Arsenal, with a good red-and-white atmosphere. My brother, a fellow nutty Gooner, could not bear to put himself through the wringer and decided to stay at home. I couldn’t really blame him after the way things have gone lately, especially after the Norwich result last week. That said, although I knew he’d be keeping up with the scores, somehow I wasn’t wholly convinced by his insistence on not watching it…

Some forced changes and a surprise or two in there, with Francis Coquelin, Santos and Carl Jenkinson coming into the side.  With the injury to Bacary Sagna, Jenkinson was always going to start but a little surprised to see the other two. Given our receding midfield options I guess we’re always going to see something relatively new. At least if the game goes south we can bring on Theo and The Ox to change things.

The pub fills up and we’re underway. A minute in and I notice a beachball had been thrown from the stand and was rolling precariously onto the pitch – did I need these bad omens? How about Nayim warming up for West Brom maybe? Pascal Cygan warming up for us?!

3 minutes in and the little bit of help I was looking for came in the shape of Marton Fulop. And what a big piece of help this ‘little bit of help’ was. The ball is fired back to him from a West Brom interception deep in midfield and for some inexplicable reason instead of picking it up (there’s no way it would have been considered a back-pass) he decides to dilly-dally, allowing Yossi Benayoun (sign him up) to steam in there for a smash-and-grab tap-in. Yes! One-nil to the Arsenal, and whilst I was relieved that we were ahead, it certainly wasn’t lost on me that this was almost an action replay of the Norwich match. And it wasn’t long before West Brom pulled one back, almost as if the getting the first goal meant the hard work was done. Shane Long capitalises on some slack-jawed defending and scores. Subsequent pundits have claimed that he was onside – having seen it a number of times afterwards I feel my initial diagnosis on that was correct, that he was marginally off. Still, the goal stands and you’d think this would have been a warning but only 4 minutes later Graham Dorrans puts them ahead, taking advantage of yet more lax defending.

My worries of the Norwich game repeating itself was now coming to fruition. Thankfully there was more industry from Arsenal after this and along came Santos doing I think we should do more often, when the passing isn’t working just have a dig. He duly obliged, with a great low long-range drive. Not quite Winterburn/Silvinho, but relieved to see that nestle in the net. Fulop could have done better I guess, but it was nowhere near as bad as his other errors.

Even though we were currently 4th as Spurs were winning, I was pleased to get to half-time level after going behind – we can almost disregard the first half and start anew in the second. Arsène was clearly also thinking this and has made a change – Theo’s in for Tomas Rosicky. Sorry to see him come off to be honest as I love his industry, but I admit he hadn’t had the greatest game by his lofty recent standards. Hopefully Theo can run them ragged and soften them up for The Ox. And as with so many games where we’ve behind before, there was a renewed focus as we turned up the heat. My brother walks in to the pub, stating that his wife had sent him packing because his nervousness was doing her head in. And that, in all honesty, he couldn’t keep away. I knew it! Then Fulop, fast becoming Arsenal’s man of the match, punches the ball from the resulting corner behind him to a grateful Laurent Koscielny who makes no mistake.

3-2 now, and that familiar worry of “have we scored too soon?”/” we need a 4th!” comes back, as we have nearly 40 minutes go. And West Brom are coming at us, corner after corner, it almost feels like they’re trying qualify for the Champions League. Gervinho, my next candidate for a substitution, is taken off for Kieran Gibbs, and although he wasn’t The Ox, I was pleased to see a defender come on. I’m struggling to watch this now as what I call The Spectre Of Defensive Lapses, who seemed to be ever-present in the first-team squad in the first third of the season, had returned to haunt us in recent weeks and was certainly hanging around The Hawthorns. To make things worse, I realised that Peter Odemwingie wasn’t actually on the pitch and is now coming on – I could just imagine him scoring.

Aaron Ramsey comes on, which was a surprise given his recent form. Where I stand at the North Bank he has been receiving some serious vitriol, particularly from a moronic ‘fan’ whom I will refer to as The Grumpy Sh*thead behind me. I feel Ramsey is an honest and fair player who doesn’t deserve the derision he has been getting. I’m sure Ramsey knows he isn’t playing well – berating him will not reverse his slump, so I was hoping he’d end up scoring the 4th, for both his confidence and the two proud fingers he’d stick up at the boo-boys.

Into the last 10 and I’m beginning to become frustrated as West Brom were seeing far too much of the ball. Wojciech Szczesny kept launching the ball instead of holding onto it and slowing the pace of the game down. Someone else who was getting a bit of stick during the Norwich game was Gibbs, so I was pleased with his match-saving tackle at the end of the game. It’s been said it’s the £30million tackle, and boy it really did look like one, absolutely perfectly-timed, a tackle any of the Back Four would have been proud to make. I hope The Grumpy Sh*thead saw that one.

After 5 minutes of hands-on-head, nervous-gaspy, I-need-a-wee, Arsène-Pat Rice-hugging injury time we complete the job (and without needing The Ox or an RvP goal I might add). We now know that there is nothing Spurs can do that can change our 3rd place position. As The Quays celebrates the victory the big screen switches to the Etihad Stadium, almost as if to cut short our cheers. I couldn’t stand for that and defiantly started an “Ooh To Be A Gooner” chant, which drowned out the Sky commentary. The Spectre inspired no more errors, it felt like we won through the sheer force of Arsène’s anger at times. The end of the season could not come soon enough as with the injuries to Arteta, Sagna and Theo, the tiredness of Ramsey, Gervinho and to a certain extent RvP I feel we’ve been running on petrol fumes just to get over the line. I’m not alone in being glad to see the back of this season although I feel a little strange saying that when I really think about it. Curiously there have actually been some extraordinary highlights (the 5-2, the 5-3 against Chelsea, TH12’s winner against Leeds to name a few), it’s just unfortunate that these were countered by some truly shocking results. But as every Gooner knows Arsenal rarely ever do things the easy way, so we really shouldn’t be too surprised by season-ends like this. All the worry about whether RvP will stay/who should we bring in/who should we get rid of could wait for another day, just wanted to enjoy this victory (with a lot of post-match beers, unusual for me on a Sunday). If there is one thing that is to be learned, especially by that horrible mob up the road, is that is never ever over until that final whistle.  (It is probably advisable that any ‘Mind The Gap’ pictures should wait until after this.) Now I can relax, safe in the knowledge that Spurs have come up short again and this time, there’s not a lasagne in sight.

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